Customer Reviews for

Descartes' Bones: A Skeletal History of the Conflict Between Faith and Reason

Average Rating 3.5
( 38 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 38 Customer Reviews
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  • Posted October 26, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Surprisingly Good.

    I was surprised by how much I ended up liking this book. When I started reading, I was not sure that I would be able to make it through the whole thing because I found it dry and somehwat bland. But as I continued reading, I began to find a very interesting story. <BR/><BR/>Descartes died in 1650 in Sweden where he had taken refuge because of the unpopularity his beliefs had engendered in his home country of France. He was disinterred sixteen years later when France decided that such a great man should not have his corpse remain on foreign soil(and a Lutheran one at that). This would turn out to be one of many times that Descartes' body would be disturbed from its resting place and used in a poltical or religious tussle. <BR/><BR/>Descartes main thesis that put him in opposition to the authority figures of his day was the belief that man should place a greater reliance on reason rather than on unquestioning faith. He sought to reorient the way humans thought and lived by asking them to empty their minds of preconceived notions implanted by tradition and religion. Of course many in the church saw no merit to his theories and believed that his way of thinking would lead people away from religion and remove the church as the established mediator between the people and God. The powers that be tried everything within their disposal to discredit him, banning his works and theories from respected institutions and universities. In addition, they accused him of being a cult leader and for good measure he was said to be a sexual deviant. <BR/><BR/>I am not a student of philosophy so I am sure that there are many who are well versed in this area who may find fault with certain claims made to Descartes place in the canon of philosophers in this book. But for me as a total novice, I found this book to be interesting and enlightening. I learnt so much about Western thought and reason and its evolution over the years. I found it interesting that a person who was so religious(he was a devout Catholic) expounded theories that many saw as the bedrock of atheism. But many of Descartes fiercest disciples were men of the cloth and devoted to God. They were very open minded and did not see any conflict between their religious worldview and Descartes teachings. <BR/><BR/>One of the biggest drawbacks of this book is its tendency to go off on tangents. Some of these tangents worked very well but some were unnecessary. For example, having almost a whole chapter dedicated to the study of cranial capacity and its relation to intelligence was in my opinion a waste of time. Shorto claims that Descartes' skull helped debunk this area of bad science. I disagree. It may have in some minute way but whatever part it played was not enough to justify the presence of this chapter in the book. I also found the narrative to be rambling and repetitive at times. Shorto constantly skips back and forth between time periods, leading to a boat load of confusion at times. I do not know that Shorto utilized Descartes bones to tell his tale as well as he might have hoped. Sometimes I felt like stories concerning the bones were thrown in with no real cohesion between their fate and the other things being discussed in the book. But all in all I found this book to be fascinating and I would absolutely recommend it.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 19, 2010

    Biased and simplistic

    While the thesis could have been well supported -- arguing that faith and science can co-exist, the author's personal bias against atheists, non-Christians, and liberals taints the arguments. For example the author argues that liberals have no values because they believe only in science, while conservatives preserve values. The author fails to recognize that both liberals and conservatives have values. Values among individuals and groups are never exactly the same, and everyone has values. The author assumes simplistically that anyone who disagrees with his values must have no values themselves.

    The first part of the book is interesting, and just as the thesis is becoming clear, the author interjects unsupported biased arguments in a flash. The telling of the ownership of the skull becomes almost a filler into which the author embeds his personal quips.

    There is also some revisionist history -- classifying secularization as "de-Christianization" for example.

    I was duped by reading the eBook free sample, which only includes the first part of the book. If I was able to leaf through the book in its entirety it would have been clear that this work was more of a personal tirade than a valid work of research.

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 1, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    An interesting twist of fate

    I enjoyed this book thoroughly, then passed it on to my father who was an academic physicist with a strong philosophical interest. He enjoyed it as well. This book is part history, part philosophy, and part mystery. The author does a good job of placing the events of Descartes' life and bones in the context of history and the transition to a more modern scientific understanding. This book is well written and researched, entertaining, and informative. I highly recommend it.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 20, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Historical Yet Timely

    Descartes' Bones was a fascinating book to read. It focused on the impact of Descartes' ideas while weaving in the French history, religion, and politics from the seventeenth century to today. His concluding chapter explains why it still matters.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2012

    Full Circle

    I loved the way so many centuries, personalities, ideas and disciplines were woven around this compelling mystery of Descartes' remains...made a great vehicle for the narrattive, tied all the facts together...educational wiyhot being dry, and the very essence of relevance to our own times and modes of thinking. The athor was also pretty even-handed with some perenially contraversial topics.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 27, 2009

    Engaging account of why Descartes is important

    I'm glad that the enlightenment seems to be undergoing something of a resurgence amongst writers. This is a fairly easy read with some relatively light philosophy, and it traces the connections nicely between conflicts 350 years apart. Interspersed is the story of Descartes Bones themselves.

    That story would make for a great novel by itself, and makes for an absorbing read.

    If you feel (as I do) that understanding our inheritance is important to figuring out the path forward, read this book. Shorto's own prescriptions for overcoming the faith-reason divide (treated almost as an afterthought) seem to me frankly utopic, but all in all an interesting and fun book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2009

    OK

    Too much about the life of Descartes and not enough about the battles between reason and faith. I enjoyed it a little but only because I am very interested in philosophy. I dont reccommend this book to ANYONE who doesnt have this interest. Descartes was a great thinker and I did not know about his personel life which I am glad to have read about.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted February 13, 2012

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    Posted November 29, 2008

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